WALK THE REGION WITH TED AND KATE HISCOCK
14.5km 5.5m (9 miles approx.) 4 hours
This walk is different from the rest in as much that it is a walk to Port Vendres from Banyuls and not a round route. It involves a 10 minute bus ride for 1Euro and then from the centre of Banyuls, it hugs the coast as much as is possible. The first part is easy walking, the middle part quite arduous and then the last part easy again. Banyuls-sur-Mer is a fascinating old fishing village of many colourful back streets and is an important wine production centre; the fishing fleet has now collapsed but the production of wine is very important. The aquarium of the Paris Marine Biology Department is well worth a visit, as is the intimate museum of Aristide Maillol, (the over-shadowed contemporary of Rodin), whose works are famously displayed in the Tuilleries Gardens of Paris and also in the Banyuls Museum up one of the valleys behind the town.
Take the local bus from the back of the marina (across the roundabout from Pizza Ernest) and ensure it is in the correct direction for Banyuls-sur-Mer, the journey only takes 10 minutes and costs 1 Euro per person.
Alight form the bus half way along the promenade at Banyuls, outside the Berta-Maillol wine shop, where across the road on the sea front is one of Aristide Maillol’s bronze statues. Cross over the road and walk along the front back towards Port Vendres and although it is not possible to go along the beach for any distance, this walk proceeds up the hill of the main road on the pavement that has been well prepared for pedestrians and is pleasantly landscaped whilst within the bounds of the community.
Go past the ‘degustation’ barrels in the layby and then down the other side to the bay St Elme and along the next short promenade to the small beach to the other end, passing the cardiological rehabilitation centre on the left. This is where the path comes on to the map.
The small road turns away to the right, soon becoming a wide track that shrinks down to a foot path winding it way through a vineyard a few metres away from the cliff. At various points the view back to Banyuls is well worth a look.
At the top of the vineyard the path plunges into woodland and it can be confusing to follow which path as the yellow flashes are not always clear but soon the path emerges on to a more conventional coastal route and the wild flowers along this cliff top are wonderful as again, so are the butterflies and birds.
For a couple of occasions, the path dips inland to accommodate the difficulties of crossing ravines, (this is particularly true for the one just beyond Cap Castell) but they are easily negotiated. Within another 750m the path opens on to a wider area where cars can come and at this point the track seems to disappear down a narrow overgrown route into deep garrigue; this is the correct route and winds down towards Cad d’Ullastrell.
This little path offers views that are not possible from any direction except by boat and the herbal aroma that fills the air is only ever discernable from warm garrigue that has been in the sun for a hours. From here, views across to Cap Bear in one direction and to Banyuls-sur-Mer in the opposite direction whilst inland and behind are Cosprons, Tour de Madeloc and to the left, the three beaches, their ruined fortresses, concrete excrescencies from World War II and the admirably adventurous development of the Conservation Site of the Dynamite Factory of Paulilles.
Where the path drops down to its lowest point and seems so close to the rocky beach below, there is a pile of rocks with a marker which clearly points the path to the left. Drop down between the high heathers, olives and gorse to the metalled road with a green gate closing access to vehicles on the left. It is well worth taking a short deviation to the right and visiting the ancient quite well-preserved fortress on the headland of Cap d’Ullestrell, obviously adapted in World War Two by the occupying German forces for it is an excellent example of medieval defences that litter this coastline.
Return to the gated part of the road and follow its route along the back of the first beach ‘Platja del Forat’ and then along the back of the ugly concrete excrescent remnants of German occupation and then turn right down a small track, seemingly into the concrete jungle. After heavy seas, sometimes this track is impassable and a detour has to be taken around the other side of the Dynamite Conservation site.
This path leads to the breakwater and access into the Paulilles site can be made across a little footbridge. (There are toilets here).
Continue along the breakwater at the back of the second part of the beach, where restoration of the Nobel Dynamite site is on-going and then at the end, drop down on to the beach itself and cross the shallow brook that terminates this sandy area, moving up stream by about 100m where steep steps take the walker up into pine woods shrouding more concrete obsolescence.
After the Paulilles site has been exhausted (and there is now a lot to appreciate with conservation projects for plants, wild life and encouragement of artisan projects), walk over the thickly planted fir tree promontory separating the two beaches. The path through the woods hugs the edge of the cliff and then drops down to the third beach that makes up the Anse de Paulilles, where at certain times of the year refreshments can be found.
Site de Paulilles
After the brutal defeat of France during the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the Minister of the Interior & War, Gambetta instructed Paul Barbe, (a protégé of Albert Nobel) to construct a dynamite factory, he chose this to be a good site with criteria being a bay with a river, wells to wash the nitro-glycerine, proximity to a port and a desolate site that would endanger lives – if there were an explosion!.
It was prosperous and employed between 300 and 400 workers, suffered occupation by the Germans during the war and now, after many years of dereliction the site has been turned into a developing and imaginative conservation area encouraging artisan creativity. (See “Site classe de Paulilles” published by Conseil General www.cg66.fr 04.68.95.23.40
At the end of the third section of the Paulilles beach, there path climbs up the rocky face; it is clearly marked with yellow flashes and crosses when not to pass and is safe. Care does have to be taken in places over this next section as it is close to the cliff face in some areas and the steps up and down are at times quite steep.
It is a path for fit people but is well worth the effort as it passes along some of the finest scenery in this region.
The isolated beaches of Bernardi and Balanti are crossed and the track seems to climb to Heaven in places. Look out for the blue rock thrush as well as many other wind life features. The rocks and jagged cliff make this a spectacular and popular route. After about an hour the ideallic hamlet of St Catherne’s Bay comes into view and at this point, the safe path up between the chalets and cottages to the road can be taken, or the more adventurous one that scrambles up the cliff face to the Phare is safe to do on calm days. When there is a violent wind blowing this is ill-advised.
Once clear of the Phare of pink stone (inside there is a pink polished marble spiral staircase hidden form public gaze – how frustrating is that?), the yellow flashes appear on the right og the now metalled road; take these few steps up and again the wildness of the flore takes over with the path emerging under the lee of the coast-guard centre (Semophore).
Cross over the road again and up the few steps opposite and this path climbs steadily up and under the Cap Bear fortress high above. This narrow track is wild but safe and seemingly takes walkers away from the road, which can be busy in summer months and offers wonderful views out to sea and northwards up the Roussillon coast. For a third time the path crosses the road and plunges the other side quite steeply and steadily down to the collection of propertiesAnse de l’Espelugos at the root of the Mole break-water and Phare.
From here the rest of the journey is easy being along the road for about 100m and then up along the seaward side of Vauban’s Fort Mailly, (sadly now a serious ruin), touching again the road by the Poisson Rouge Restaurant and around the final headland below the Redoute Bear before emerging at the entrance to the commercial port. Follow the road round to the left and cross over to the concrete path that hugs the perimeter fence and old railway lines previously taken by train passengers for the boats to North Africa, and within 20 minutes the walk returns to Port Vendres.